The Sleuth Sisters mystery series comprises seven books, starting with The Sleuth Sisters. They were published from 2014—2019. After reading the first book, I was hooked. There are three sisters, in age order, Barb, Faye, and Retta. Each has a distinctive personality and have very different lifestyles. But in terms of sleuthing, those difference are a plus since they have different talents, and they know each other very well.
After retiring as an assistant D.A. in Tacoma, Washington, Barb retires at 52 and goes back to her hometown of Allport, Michigan, where her two younger sisters live. She’s financially sound so she doesn’t respond positively to Faye’s suggestion of starting a detective agency. Finally, Barb agrees because Faye is not financially sound. She’s an office manager who always seems to lose her jobs. Faye’s husband is on disability due to a jobsite accident. Although seemingly softhearted, Barb is also bored with retirement. They agree that their baby sister Retta cannot be allowed to join the agency due to her domineering personality, which of course doesn’t last long.
Please welcome Maggie Pill (also known as mystery writer Peg Herring) to WWK. E. B. Davis
The last book in the series, Captured, Escape, Repeat was published
in 2019. That’s only two years ago. Is there any chance of an addition to the
series? (had to ask!)
Why do you write under different
As Peg Herring, I had a traditional writing career with an agent, a publisher, and a fan base. I wanted to try cozy mystery, but I wasn’t sure I could be funny, and I didn’t know if my publisher would appreciate the effort. Independent publishing was starting to become feasible and respectable, so I took my grandmother’s name (Margaret Pillsbury), made it shorter, and published The Sleuth Sisters as an e-book. Soon someone wrote to say they’d like it in paperback to give to a relative, so I learned how to make a “real” book. After that, someone asked for it in audio. When I put the book up for auditions, I was lucky enough to get Cerny American, a respected studio in Chicago, interested. They chose the three voice actors who did the audio books, doing a great job matching voices and personalities. Soon Maggie Pill was as popular as Peg Herring, and now I have tons of fun and frustration keeping up with the demands of both.
When the series opens, we find that
Barb, former officer of the court, is in fact a criminal. Barb would defend
herself by saying the rules of grammar were broken and she is merely fixing
them. How does Barb fix grammar by breaking the law?
Come on, we’ve all been there (well, maybe not). I’m a retired English teacher, so I often have to turn away from grammatical horrors on signs and notices. It would only take a second to fix most of them. Barb goes out in the dead of night and corrects errors on signs in her community. She sees her “Correction Events” as a public service.
When I got a job in teaching, I succeeded a very proper grammarian. The
principal confided that one day when she called in sick, he went down to let
the substitute into her room and found his latest letter to the staff in her
desk drawer, liberally corrected with red ink. Moral: we can’t help it. Red ink
is in our blood.)
The sisters’ hometown is Allport, MI. You are very specific about its geography. Is it a real place or based on a real place?
I live in
northern Lower Michigan (near the tip of the mitten). To get a location I could
manipulate as I needed to, I simply slid two counties apart and inserted a new
one. Allport is a combination of Alpena and Rogers City, both cities on the
Lake Huron shoreline. With a fictional town and county, I don’t have to worry
about offending anyone in real life.
Barb says she used her brain to
get ahead. Faye worked hard and hasn’t been very successful (at least
financially). Retta, short for Margaretta, was pretty, ambitious, and financially
sound. But she has her own vision of the world. Would Retta agree with Barb’s
about sisters is they share so much and yet turn out so differently. Retta has
had her share of sorrow, but she has a lighter outlook than her sisters, which makes
her more prone to take chances. Retta enjoys the company of men and likes being
spoiled, or at least appreciated. She isn’t shy about using flirtation as an
investigative device. She would say that Barb never learned to let go and have
fun because she’s always worried about propriety. And she’s probably right.
the U.P. aren’t lacking, they’re just spread out. It’s heavily forested, lightly
populated by humans but full of animal life. To balance the lack of
“civilization,” nature provides breath-taking scenery, peace, and quiet.
As a lawyer, Barb isn’t a warm fuzzy character, unlike her sister Faye, who has a large heart and even Retta, who loves her big fuzzy dog. But, Barb seems to lead her life in service to others. Isn’t that a way of showing her warmth and care?
I think Barb
cares too much. In order to keep her heart from breaking over the way people
treat each other, she developed a protective shell. I imagine those who work in
the justice system need to do that or be depressed all the time about things
they can’t fix.
What’s an ice spud?
It’s a tool
for chopping holes in the ice on a lake. Imagine a hoe straightened out.
Faye at one point gets kidnapped
by a nonviolent, inept kidnapper, Gabe. After overpowering and getting
information out of him, she mentors him. Gabe becomes a series character doing
odd jobs for the sisters. How did that happen?
I liked Gabe. He was never meant to be more than a scene or two, but he reminded me of kids I’d had in my high school classes, kids who weren’t bad people but still ended up in jail. In keeping with the sisters’ personalities, they defeat Gabe when he’s doing wrong and then support him when he decides to do what’s right.
Never-been-married Barb gets to know the new police chief, Rory Neuencamp. What type of alliance do they form professionally and personally?
It’s a bit
trite, but cozy sleuths need a connection to law enforcement to be realistic. I
wanted a cop who’d help the sisters out, and in the first book, it underscored
the sibling rivalry between Barb and Retta to have them both interested in the
new man in town. Rory is a capable cop who is willing to accept Barb’s
independent spirit, so they work together well.
As a stray who’s probably been abused, Buddy doesn’t take guff from anyone. He’s one of those dogs who has his “people,” Faye and to a lesser extent Faye’s husband Dale. He’d prefer that everyone else keep their distance. (My daughter had a Rottweiler like that. He wouldn’t bite me, but I was 100% sure he didn’t like me.)
Barb claims Faye is too soft-hearted, but Barb ends up adopting a stray cat. Is she a hypocrite? Why does she call the cat The Brat?
had the option of keeping a pet as an adult, since she lived alone and had a
demanding job. Still, they were raised on a farm, so she’s used to having
animals around. I see the stray cat, Brat, so called because she’s so
independent, as a sign that these days Barb is becoming what she couldn’t be as
an assistant DA, patient, compassionate, and loving.
Retta’s dog is large. What type is he? How did he get his name?
How did Retta find out about Barb’s secret activities? Why did she insist on helping? What was the deal?
Retta finds out about Barb’s Correction Events by accident. (Faye has figured it out too but would never say anything.) Retta understands Barb’s need to make things right in her small way, but of course, she isn’t above a little blackmail. She wants to be fully part of the agency, so she uses her knowledge to her advantage. There’s a lot of humor in Barb’s adventures, and fans often comment on them. Many, many people would like to do what she does, so they live vicariously through Barb and her pots of paint.
Why does Faye’s mother-in-law like her better than her children?
She doesn’t, but she recognizes who will take care of her and cater to her wishes. Most of her children ignore her, but Faye has a strong sense of duty. Though the old woman is demanding and mercurial, Faye does her best to make her happy, which is kind of her approach to the world.
How easy is it for younger next of kin to check their elders into nursing care and take control of their assets?
I’m not sure it would be easy, but in cozy mysteries, things get simplified. I do know of cases where elderly people objected strongly to being institutionalized. Doctors have a large say in whether a person remains independent, so I figured if a deceitful relative began a campaign of disinformation with the locals and then used drugs to create confusion, it could work.
Why does Barb ask Faye’s son Cramer to hack for her? You wouldn’t think a retired D.A. would ask anyone to break the law.
She has the best of intentions…Isn’t that how we all justify ourselves when we do wrong?
Barb has two cars. One she considers her baby. What are they and why does she only drive one in the winter?
In Michigan, roads are salted liberally all winter long to melt the ice and snow. Any car with a metal body, like Barb’s ’57 Chevy, would corrode if driven in winter, so she stores it and drives her everyday car, a Ford Edge.
What are some of the arcane things Faye knows from reading romance novels?
Romance novels aren’t my forte, but Faye would say they teach you about relationships. Also, authors love to slip in historical information and details about careers, recipes, hobbies, etc., so a person picks up bits and pieces she doesn’t even realize she’s learning. My first novel as Peg Herring was set in Scotland during Macbeth’s kingship. I came upon crannogs (castles set in the center of a lake for defensive purposes) and had to put one into Macbeth’s Niece. The information was simply too cool not to share.
When Lars, an FBI agent boyfriend of Retta’s, is given the choice of an overseas assignment or returning to Arizona, we never find out which he chose. What happens?
That was supposed to be part of Book 8, which never happened due to reasons already given. Lars would have been a great addition to the Smart Detective Agency, but he’s also a good reason for Retta to leave Allport, giving the sisters a reason to retire from sleuthing. We may never know.Thanks again for the opportunity. You asked great questions!